New Mexico’s trophy trout fishery, the San Juan River below Navajo Dam, will be getting an upgrade for Christmas including two new boat ramps and many in-stream habitat improvements.
“This is a win-win project designed to benefit anglers, guides, outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife,” says Marc Wethington, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish biologist stationed on the river.
Work is scheduled to commence this month on about a mile of river between Simon Canyon and the Gravel Pit boat takeout. The area will be closed to the public during construction and boaters can use a temporary boat ramp on the river’s back channel at Munoz to takeout. Construction could take up to three months.
The estimated $1 million project caps efforts to improve this stretch of the river that was devastated by massive flooding in late 2014.
The flood from Simon Canyon smothered the riverbed with tons of sand and silt which killed off much of the bug life that sustains fish. What had been one of the river’s best dry-fly fishing areas held far fewer trout and fishing declined.
Control of erosion and storm runoff was needed on the surrounding mesas that feed Simon Canyon and Sen. Martin Heinrich D-N.M., helped get it done.
“I am proud I was able to work with the San Juan Guide Association, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Farmington, Conoco Phillips and other stakeholders to improve the Simon Canyon watershed and reduce sediment flow into the San Juan River,” Heinrich said in a written statement. “The community needed immediate action and we were able to effectively deliver tangible and pragmatic results to ensure the San Juan River will continue to be a thriving and top destination for fly fishing in the country.”
The BLM conducted juniper and pinon tree thinning projects and planted native grasses on hundreds of acres within the watershed to reduce runoff and erosion. And oil companies operating in the area were prompted to make improvements to their roads and well sites to help in the effort.
That set the stage for the N.M. Department on Game and Fish to proceed with in-stream habitat improvements designed to help keep silt and sediment moving downstream when flooding does occur.
Some of the improvements also are designed to benefit wildlife habitat in the riverside bosque by diverting water to it during floods and high water conditions, says Chris Philips of Riverbend Engineering of Albuquerque. The river restoration firm has been involved in many recent habitat improvement projects undertaken on the San Juan River.
Weeminuche Construction Authority of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe of Towaoc, Colo. won the bid to perform construction on the Simon Canyon project.
Wethington, who has been stationed on the river his entire 23 year career with the department, says the overall effort should help alleviate silt and sediment problems below Simon Canyon in the future.
Federal excise taxes paid by sportsmen and women on fishing tackle, motor boat fuel and other sporting goods funded the project.
The San Juan River is a top trout fishing destination for anglers due to its huge population of big fish of and many miles of public access. Fishing on the San Juan River contributes an estimated $40 million to the state’s economy annually, according to a New Mexico State University economic study.